Meet Stevia Rebaudiana: The Plant Behind the Hype

stevia rebaudiana

Stevia rebaudiana, the plant behind the popular sweetener

Last week, I was vacationing in Canada when an interesting commercial popped up on the television. It was an ad for the sweetener, stevia, and it featured enthusiastic users growing plants at home. Needless to say, it caught my attention. I had heard that stevia was derived from a ‘natural’ source. But I’d never stopped to consider what that meant from a gardening perspective.

I decided to dig deeper.

STEVIA HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A LONG, LONG TIME

These days, stevia is perhaps best known as an alternative to sugar. But in the botanical world, it is a genus of about 240 species of herbs and shrubs from the sunflower family,  Asteraceae. Among the species, only one exhibits the highest level of sweetness; Stevia rebaudiana. Native to Paraguay and Brazil, the herb has been used for centuries to sweeten tea and food as well as to treat various ailments and diseases.

plantation in Indonesia

A stevia plantation in Indonesia/Photo: shutterstock.com

We have the Paraguayan chemist Ovidio Rebaudi to thank for identifying what makes Stevia rebaudiana so sweet. In 1900, he began studying the plant to determine its constituents. He discovered that stevia rebaudiana’s leaves were packed with compounds called steviol glycosides. And, when extracted and refined, these compounds were 200 times sweeter than processed sugar.

In fact, it took only a small amount of stevia to produce the same level of sweetness as sucrose. And since humans were unable to metabolize steviol glycosides, the extract was not only calorie-free, but also didn’t raise blood sugar levels when digested. 

It’s no wonder the world was jumping on the bandwagon.

IT’S NATURAL, BUT IS IT NATURAL?

Powder and dried leaves of fresh stevia

According to the latest report by IMARC Group, the global stevia market reached a value of more than USD 490 million in 2018 and is projected to reach nearly USD 818 million by 2024. Stevia currently represents an almost 40% share of the total global sugar substitutes market. However, it also has its share of detractors.

Take, for instance, the way in which it’s processed. This is what the website stevia.com says about its processing:

To extract the plant’s sweetness, stevia leaves are harvested, dried and steeped in hot water. They then undergo multiple stages of filtering and centrifuging to concentrate the sweetest components of the leaf. The result is purified stevia leaf extract, ready to be sold commercially.

IMARC global stevia market report

IMARC Global Stevia Market Report

Online, however, there is much disagreement about stevia’s suitability for food. A deeper dive reveals that although stevia leaf extract comes from a natural source (the plant), its leaves are generally processed in a lab with hot water as well as with the chemical compound, ethanol.

Adding to the confusion is that the FDA considers the highly purified form of the plant’s leaves to be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) – (that is, the steviol glycsoides found in the leaves). But to date, it has not approved whole stevia leaves and crude (non-purified) stevia extracts for use in food due to the lack of generally accepted specifications.

Maybe the herb is best grown and processed at home.

HOW TO GROW AND HARVEST YOUR OWN STEVIA

Ready to follow the people in the ad and grow your own stevia? The sun-loving perennial is listed as hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 11 and up. Like most tropical species, it thrives in hot climates and will die back in a freeze. However, in most areas of the country it can be grown successfully as an annual. 

stevia rebaudiana leaves

Leaves of stevia rebaudiana

In fact, according to Park Seed (one of the oldest seed companies on line), stevia rebaudiana takes well to containers. They recommend planting 3 to 5 plants per pot. Like other herbs, stevia rebaudiana benefits from frequent pruning to prevent lankiness and to encourage branching. Expect it to grow to around 24″ tall.

In early to mid autumn, the herb will produce bunches of tiny, tubular white flowers. But if you’re planning on harvesting fresh leaves, make sure to do so before they’ve opened. Once the flowers blossom, the leaves often adopt a bitter aftertaste.

white flowers of stevia rebaudiana

White flowers of stevia rebaudiana

Stevia growers recommend harvesting fresh leaves in the morning when the plant’s sugar content is highest. You can eat the leaves directly off the plant or dry them and save them in airtight containers. Dried leaves are generally sweeter than fresh ones. And they can be ground in a blender into a granulated powder.

dried stevia leaves

Dried stevia leaves

A note on cold drinks- the leaves must be steeped in hot water to release their sweetness. So use fresh leaves as a sweet, edible garnish instead. 

 

 

10 New Year’s Resolutions For The 2020 Garden

Given my preference for long days spent in the garden, December 21 is always cause for celebration. That’s because from that point forward every day will get just a little longer. And with the return of the light, my mind is filled with thoughts of the garden and plans for what the New Year will bring.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that every year I post my New Year’s resolutions for both my individual and clients’ gardens. So without further ado, here they are below.

1: ADD MORE NATIVE PLANTS TO MY GARDENS

Given our changing climate, environmentally-responsible, sustainable landscapes are becoming more and more in vogue. As a result, you can now find more native species for sale at the nursery. These plants tend to look a little less ‘finished’ than what we are used to, but the flip side is that they come with many benefits.

Not only are native plants more hardy (since they are evolved to local conditions), but they also require less watering and fewer pesticides and fertilizers. Moreover, they provide food and habitat to birds and other local wildlife.

blue cardinal flower

Blue cardinal flower, Lobelia siphilitica, is a native plant of Maryland

This year, I resolve to learn more about my area’s native plants and add a few new species to my gardens. 

2: LEARN TO IDENTIFY THE BIRD CALLS IN MY GARDEN

Most of us love birds, but can we name the ones visiting our garden? The legendary Ted Parker, who was known for his ability to identify thousands of birds by their songs alone, said

“Birding in tropical forests by sight alone is like watching the news on television with the sound turned off – you’ll miss most of what’s going on.”

vireo

The vireo is a small songbird native to Virginia

This year, I resolve to learn a handful of songs and begin building my birdcall repertoire. If this sounds like a good idea to you, too, writer Kenn Kaufman of Audubon News has some great suggestions for how to do so, including online bird guides, free ID apps and some good old-fashioned books.

3: GROW MORE ANNUALS FROM SEED

Until last year, (when I and my team were growing massive amounts of zinnias for a wedding), I had had little experience with growing plants from seed. Truth by told, I was afraid of the whole project. Something about laying those tiny kernels in the potting mix shook my confidence in my own planting abilities.

But thanks to our efforts, I and the rest of my team (who were not afraid), were rewarded with hundreds of beautiful plants by mid-summer. Moreover, they were varieties that weren’t available at local nurseries. This helped me realize that growing plants from seed is not only economical, it opens up a whole new world of planting possibilities.

growing seeds

This year, I resolve to grow more annuals from seed to supplement the other plants in my gardens. 

4: TRY SOME LESSER-KNOWN ALLIUM SPECIES

While the huge purple globes of Allium ‘Globemaster’ get all the glory, there are many other spectacular allium species that bloom all through summer right up to the first frost. These include the mid-summer flowering Blue Globe Onion (Allium caeruleum) Stars of Persia (Allium cristophii) and adorable Drumstick (Allium sphaerocephalon), to name just a few.

Allium 'Drumstick'

Adorable, summer-blooming Allium ‘Drumstick’

In the fall, I resolve to plant a bunch of these other, lesser-known species to enhance the show in my 2021 garden.

5: ADD POT RISERS TO MY OUTDOOR CONTAINERS

For some time, I’d been watching moss slowly form a carpet under my flower pots. I knew I needed to add some pot risers, but hadn’t found any that didn’t detract from the look of the container. That is, until Julie Friedman of Exteriors Landscape Design recommended some invisible flower pot risers called LIFT MY POT. Made out of heavy black rubber, the round risers got the job done while completely disappearing from view. 

clay flower pots

I resolve to order more of these risers for the rest of my pots (and my clients’ pots) next season.

6: GET NEW PRUNERS AND TAKE BETTER CARE OF THEM

It seemed like fall 2019 was a time of garden rehab for my business. In early December, we hand pruned a large number of overgrown shrubs on two separate properties. One of my team members is an accomplished boxwood pruner (having apprenticed at the historic Georgetown estate called Dumbarton Oaks). Watching his technique as well as the tools he employed inspired me to come home and coax all my own boxwood into spheres. For a perfectionist like me, it was a deeply satisfying experience.

pruning shears

However, as we all know, good tools make a job more enjoyable and over the years, my tools have suffered much neglect. This year, I resolve to take better care of my pruning shears (perhaps buy some new ones) and keep them in clean and sharpened condition.

7: PLANT GOLDEN RASPBERRIES

There are raspberries and then there are raspberries. Two years ago, a client of mine introduced me to the golden kind. Milder than their red cousins with a fuller, sweeter taste, they are the perfect summer snack right out of the garden. Golden raspberries come in both summer and fall-bearing varieties. including ‘Honey Queen’, ‘Fall Gold’, Golden Harvest’ and Anne’.

golden raspberries

Golden raspberries

This year, I resolve to add a small hedgerow of golden raspberry plants to my garden.

8: PLANT A HYDRANGEA HEDGE

Almost nothing speaks ‘garden’ more than a long line of hydrangeas, the quintessential summer hedge. Yet many people opt for a single specimen or just a few, missing out on the grand statement these dramatic shrubs can make in a mass.

Although I’m partial to the old-fashioned, part-shade mophead varieties, my favorite easy-care species for full sun is the limelight hydrangea.

hydrangea hedge

Hydrangeas have the biggest impact as a hedge

This year, I resolve to make a grand statement and plant a limelight hydrangea hedge along the brick wall in the back of my garden.

9: GET A BETTER HOSE

Don’t we all wish for a better hose? I’ve tried them all from the rubber to the cloth. They’re either too heavy, always crimping, or just don’t feel right in my hands (like the accordion models in rubber or cloth). Luckily the wirecutter examined a bunch of them and came up with some recommendations. In 2019, they concluded that the neon green Flexzilla was the most kink-resistant material they tested. It lay flat and twisted and turned more easily than the others.

flexzilla garden hose

The lime green Flexzilla garden hose

I resolve to experience the joys of watering again and buy a Flexzilla garden hose for 2020.

10: PLANT MORE GRASSES 

Not everyone is a fan, but the facts are things are getting drier. If you want to save on irrigation and not worry if your plants will die over vacation, grasses are the ticket. That’s because, unlike more shallow-rooted perennials, grasses have long roots that penetrate deep into the soil to capture water other plants can’t reach.

Pampas, maiden and purple fountain grasses are all dependable garden denizens. But nowadays there are so many other exciting options available (including many species that come in more manageable sizes.) These include Little Blue Stem, Purple Moor Grass, Blue Oat Grass and Pink Muhly Grass, to name just a few.

festuca glauca

Blue fescue is a great, small sized grass with silver-blue foliage

This year, I resolve to expand my grass library and add some unusual specimens to my garden. 

Wishing all of my readers a wonderful New Year and successful 2020 season in the garden!

 

Mistletoe: The Poisonous Plant We Love To Hang At Christmas

European or Common mistletoe, Viscum album

For centuries, people have been hanging mistletoe as an expression of love and romance. Unfortunately though, the relationship is one-sided, as the plant doesn’t return the same feelings. Why?  Because mistletoe contains a Christmas cocktail of toxins that when ingested can be harmful to humans and pets. I’d advise keeping it out of reach if you’re planning to make it part of your holiday décor.

WHAT IT IS

For all its romantic associations, mistletoe is no loving plant. In fact, it is parasitic. That means it specializes in attaching to the branches of a tree or shrub and penetrating it to steal water and other nutrients.

And while its deep green, ball-like form adds a touch of ‘life’ to bare branches, once mistletoe gets its roots into a plant it immediately begins to destroy it. This usually requires the removal of all infested limbs and in some cases entire trees in which there are large-scale invasions.

Attractive but parasitic bright green clusters of European mistletoe

IT LIKES TO SPREAD

As if that weren’t bad enough, mistletoe seeds are also easily dispersed. Those pretty white berries that add a festive touch to the sprig? Birds love them. As they’re carried away, the berries’ sticky pulp drops onto the upper branches of shrubs and trees, sowing seeds on other species.

All told, it can take up to two years for a mistletoe to fully develop within a plant. Once firmly rooted, it sends out aerial shoots that typically weaken and distort the host. Sometimes it even kills it.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I EAT MISTLETOE?

There are two main species of mistletoe, Viscum album (European or Common mistletoe) and Phoradendron (American or Oak mistletoe). Both contain a mix of toxic compounds in their stems, leaves and berries that, if ingested, can be harmful to humans and pets.

However, of the two, Viscum album is the more toxic. Its pairs of smooth, oval shaped leaves and clusters of sticky white berries contain a mix of chemicals that include poisonous amounts of the alkaloid tyramine. Tyramine can cause stomach upset, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, blood pressure changes and in rare cases even death.

The oval leaves and white berries of Viscum album

Not to worry (too much), though. In North America, Viscum album is a rarity unless it has been purposely transplanted (California being the exception.) Instead, our own native species, Phoradendron, populates our forests.

American mistletoe has shorter and broader leaves than the European species and larger clusters of white berries. It also secretes a toxin, in this case phoratoxin, that causes the same symptoms as tyramine. But happily, it’s to a lesser extent.

The paddle-shaped leaves of Phoradendron

In fact, although until recently American mistletoe was widely considered to be as poisonous as the European species, downing a few berries is likely to lead to no more than a stomachache. According to the National Capital Poison Center’s recent studies describing American mistletoe exposures (mainly by young children at Christmas), you’d have to eat a whole lot of berries to experience these reactions. The vast majority of patients who ate parts of the plant had no symptoms. Moreover, there were no fatalities, even among those who had swallowed mistletoe on purpose.

POISONING IN DOGS AND CATS

When it comes to pets, small amounts of mistletoe most likely will cause no more than mild gastrointestinal distress. However, if your cat or dog accidentally consumes large amounts of the plant, it could lead to abnormal heart rate, collapse or even seizures. If you suspect your pet has eaten mistletoe, contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline for treatment recommendations.

Mistletoe is most harmful to small children and pets/Photo credit: Michael Pettigrew

MISTLETOE AS MEDICINE

Perhaps as a result of its toxicity, Viscum album has been used by herbalists as medicine for centuries. This includes using it to improve circulatory and respiratory problems and to treat a variety of conditions including seizures, hypertension, headaches and arthritis. More recently, mistletoe extract has shown promise in stimulating the immune system in some limited laboratory studies. Today in Europe it is also being used as a cancer treatment.

(Although the United States FDA has not approved mistletoe as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition, it is nonetheless being studied in clinical trials.)

Mistletoe is currently being harvested in Europe for its cancer-fighting properties

THE TAKE-AWAY

Used safely, mistletoe may do a lot more for humankind than just providing a romantic canopy. As we learn more and more about what plants can do, mistletoe’s powerful medicinal qualities are something to celebrate in addition to its decorative properties. Something to think about next time someone reaches in for a kiss under its branches.

 

5 Top Christmas Tree Types: A Guide To Finding Your Perfect Match

Every year is different when it comes to Christmas. But in my home, there is one thing that remains constant. When I shop for a tree, I always head straight for the Fraser firs. These are the trees I grew up with, and their fragrance reminds me of my childhood. And as we all know, memory is a key component in any holiday décor.

Today, the Fraser fir is one of the most popular types of Christmas trees sold. Blessed with good form and upward-pointing branches, it is uniquely suited for heavy ornaments. But for me, its greatest asset is its smell. An intoxicating blend of pine and lemon, it’s the first thing that greets me at the door, instantly boosting my mood during the Christmas season.

4 KEY THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN SELECTING A TREE

That being said, there is more than one type of Christmas tree available. In fact, there are now over 35 different species being grown, answering to all kinds of tastes and décor. Regardless of which one you choose, though, there are four key things to consider before making a purchase. They are:

Freshness * Needle Retention * Branch Structure * Durability

HOW DO I TELL IF A TREE IS FRESH?

This is the crucial question. Unless you’ve chopped your tree down in the woods, it can be hard to determine a pre-cut tree’s freshness. To that end, the most important indicator is its needle retention. A fresh tree’s needles are pliable, meaning they stay put, even if you pull on them.

Pine needles

Pull on the needles to see if they’re fresh

Another key indicator is the trunk. According to North Carolina State Extension/Christmas Trees, a fresh tree has a sticky one.

cut Christmas tree trunks

Sticky trunks indicate freshness

Ready to try something new? Following are specifics on five popular Christmas tree types and how they fit the above parameters.

FRASER FIR

Native to the Appalachian Mountains of the southeastern United States, the Fraser Fir is named after the Scottish botanist John Fraser (1750-1811) who discovered it in the late 18th century. Since that time, growing and harvesting Fraser firs for holiday decoration has become a multimillion-dollar business in southern Appalachia, with North Carolina producing the majority.

Fraser fir

Fraser Fir

One of the most recognizable characteristics of this Christmas tree type are its needles. Short and soft, they are blue-green on the surface and silver below, giving the tree a shimmering quality. The Fraser fir is naturally pyramidal, has excellent needle retention and stays fresh for weeks while emitting a pleasant, forest scent. Sturdy limbs make it perfect for heavy ornaments. And plenty of open space between branches makes decorating easy.

DOUGLAS FIR

It may contain the word fir, but the Douglas fir is actually a member of the pine family. Native to western North America, it is named after David Douglas, the Scottish botanist who discovered it. 

Douglas fir

Douglas Fir

The family connection explains the Douglas fir’s soft green needles, a characteristic of most pine species. Radiating in all directions from the twig like a bottle brush, they emit a sweet fragrance when crushed. Douglas firs are nearly perfectly conical and their branches are spreading to drooping, the perfect holiday shape. You can almost imagine them laden with snow.

COLORADO BLUE SPRUCE

Also known simply as blue spruce, this conical tree with short needles and stiff horizontal branches is the most commonly used Christmas tree type in the Midwest. A nice pyramidal shape and strong limbs make it an excellent choice for decorating.

Blue spruce

Blue Spruce

Lovely bluish-gray foliage give it an added allure and its needle retention is among the best for spruces. But beware — the needles emit a bad odor when crushed. As the popularity of Colorado blue spruces as landscape ornamentals has grown, many consumers now purchase them as ‘living’ Christmas trees to be planted after the holiday season.

BALSAM FIR

Known for its fragrance and near perfect conical shape, the Balsam fir has the distinction of having been chosen for the first National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse by President Calving Coolidge in 1923. Harvested from Vermont, the 48-foot tall specimen was decorated with 2,500 red, white and green electric bulbs. Since then, the types of National Christmas Trees have varied, with this year’s 30-foot tall blue spruce hailing from the state of Pennsylvania.

Balsam fir

Balsam firs are generally found in the northeastern United States and eastern and central Canada. Aside from their distinctive provenance, what makes them so attractive are their short, flat, dark green needles, flexible branches, and slender pyramidal shape (including a spire-like tip perfectly suited for an angel or Christmas star). 

SCOTCH PINE

Native to northern Europe and northern Asia from Scotland to Siberia, the Scotch pine today is the most widely planted tree in the United States. 

Scotch pine

Scotch pine

Also known as Scots pine (in reference to its Scottish roots), its blue-green needles have a distinctive twisted shape, turning 360° as they leave the twig. As an added bonus, the tree rarely sheds its needles. 

Scotch pines can be tough on the hands while decorating, however, as needles can be sharp as pins. I recommend wearing gloves when hanging your ornaments. 

 

The Story Of The Cornucopia: It’s All Greek To Me

Thanksgiving décor for my mother was a white linen tablecloth and fine crystal, but as a child I longed for something more. So as soon as I had my own household, I added the cornucopia. The sight of all those colorful fruits spilling from a basket filled my spirit with holiday joy. In my mind, the horn-shaped vessel seemed to embody the very essence of the harvest season.

That being said, I later discovered that the origins of the cornucopia had nothing to do with a basket, nor was it meant to contain fruit. It all started with a goat named Amalthea.

AMALTHEA AND THE HORN OF PLENTY

Cornucopia, or cornu copiae, translates literally to horn (cornu) of plenty (copiae). In the English language, it also means abundance. But while the word may have Latin roots, its origins are firmly planted in Greek mythology.

In Greek legend, the cornucopia actually refers to the horn of Amalthea, the name given to the goat who fed the infant Zeus on Crete. According to one version of the myth, Zeus broke off one of Amalthea’s horns and gave it to the nymph daughters of Melisseus. In so doing, he endowed it with the power to be filled with whatever its possessors desired. 

Cretan goat

The Cretan goat known as Kri Kri/Photo: Evita Kouts

Other accounts say Amalthea was herself a nymph who fed the god with the milk of a goat. When the goat accidentally broke off one of her horns, the nymph filled it with fresh herbs and fruit and gave it to Zeus as a gift. This may explain why for centuries, the cornucopia is depicted as a real goat’s horn filled with fruits and grains.

The Childhood of Zeus by Jacob Jordaens/Louvre Museum

Whatever the reason for the horn being separated from the goat, Zeus is said to have so loved Amalthea that he placed her among the stars as the constellation Capra, (which is Latin for goat). Today we know her as Capricornus (horned goat), or Capricorn.

constellation capricorn

The constellation Capricorn

SYMBOL OF ROMAN ABUNDANCE

Still other stories associate the horn of plenty with Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck, fate and fortune. As the giver of abundance, she is often depicted bearing a cornucopia.

Fortuna holding a cornucopia/Istanbul Archeology Museum/Photo: shutterstock.com

Through the ages, as the popularity of the cornucopia has grown, it has become synonymous with the harvest and fall’s abundance. Frequently depicted in classical art, it now figures on buildings, sculptures, paintings and coins. There are entire towns, businesses, jails and temples named after it. And here in Washington, DC, it appears five times in the U.S. Capitol

An ancient bas relief depicting a goat’s horn overflowing with fruits

Statue of Zeus with a cornucopia

Cornucopia sculpture in Greece

THE PILGRIMS PROBABLY DIDN’T HAVE A CORNUCOPIA

While it is unlikely that the Pilgrims had a cornucopia, Americans have nonetheless adopted the vessel as one of the most popular Thanksgiving decorations. As a symbol of plenty, it’s a natural fit for a lavish table. Nowadays, however, it usually takes the form of a basket rather than an actual horn (although there other materials available.) People traditionally fill it with fruits, but vegetables, nuts, flowers and leaves are also popular. 

ceramic cornucopia

A ceramic cornucopia

Still, there’s something about the story of the goat Amalthea that I find especially heart-warming. This Thanksgiving when I set the table, I’ll be thinking of her and the abundance she represents, a harvest wish for plenty to cultures throughout the ages.

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Feed The Birds: 10 Plants With Great Winter Seedheads

Once flowers dry up in the vase, we tend to throw them in the garbage. But outdoors, it’s a whole different story. Not only do the seedheads of spent flowers bring beauty to the garden, but they also furnish food to hungry birds and wildlife. And those two reasons alone should cause us to think twice before we start cutting our plants back for the winter.

SEEDHEADS ADD STRUCTURE TO A WINTER GARDEN

When left standing, dried flower stalks and stems can be every bit as striking as bare trees or the skeletons of leafless shrubs. Just like a sepia photo, the soft brown tint of many dried plants brings a warmth and intensity to the winter garden. (They also look great in dried arrangements.) 

Looking for winter interest? It doesn’t have to be all about evergreens. Take a second look at these faded beauties and see them for their sculptural forms. They’ll add structure to your cold-weather garden.

BIRDS LOVE THEM

That being said, the most important reason to leave some plants standing is for their seedheads. During the cold winter months, the dried flowers of many summer and fall-blooming plants are important food sources for many insects, birds and wildlife. Small birds like chickadees and goldfinches often perch right on the seedhead, while larger birds forage for seeds on the ground. And many birds that eat insects during the summer switch to seeds in the winter once these resources are no longer available.

Not surprisingly, sunflower seeds rank high among most seed-eating birds, including cardinals, chickadees, goldfinches and red-bellied woodpeckers to name just a few. American goldfinches in particular also gravitate towards smaller composite flowers like asters and coreopsis. And for most birds, the dried inflorescences of ornamental grasses furnish essential food while the plants themselves provide great wildlife habitats.

rabbit sheltering in dried grass

A rabbit sheltering in dried grass/Photo: shutterstock

Winter is a harsh season for many animals as natural food sources become scarce. Waiting to cut dried plants down directly benefits your local wildlife.

10 PLANTS WITH BEAUTIFUL SEEDHEADS

Of course, you should still prune those plants whose stems collapse or decay. But when it come to the sturdier plants, like the ones listed below, let them remain upright in the garden during the winter. You’ll be rewarded with a flurry of wildlife activity. Chop these plants down in the early spring when new growth starts to appear.

burdock

The beautiful seedheads of burdock/Photo: shutterstock

ECHINACEA (CONEFLOWER)

Denuded of its purple/pink petals, echinacea’s (coneflower) magnificent pyramidal cone is hard to ignore. Blue jays, cardinals and goldfinches all enjoy eating its seeds. The larger the group, the better. 

Echinacea seedhead

RUDBECKIA (BLACK-EYED SUSAN)

Late to the scene, rudbeckias (Black-eyed Susans) add a welcome blast of color to the late-summer garden. And some would say that their distinctive black seedheads are every bit as beautiful as their flowers. Like coneflowers, these sturdy plants will remain standing for much of the winter. And goldfinches, nuthatches, chickadees and towhees all enjoy feasting on their tiny dark cones.

Black-eyed Susans are veritable bird-feeders

JOE PYE WEED

Joe Pye Weed is as happy growing on the roadside as it is in the garden. In the summer, its mauve blooms are covered with pollinators. Once its flowers have faded, the seedheads also provide seeds to chickadees, wrens and titmice as well as the fluff to build their winter nests.

American goldfinch feasting on Joe Pye Weed

Goldfinch feasting on Joe Pye Weed/Photo: shutterstock

SCABIOSA (PINCUSHION FLOWER)

Scabiosa columnaria’s distinctive prickly round seedhead leaves no doubt as to how it acquired its common name, pincushion flower. Birds eat its ripe seeds in the fall.

scabiosa seedhead

Scabiosa seedhead/Photo: shutterstock

ORNAMENTAL GRASSES

During the winter, many native birds like sparrows and finches forage for seeds from ornamental grasses, just as they do in the wild. The plants’ brown flowerheads furnish seeds throughout the winter. And their dense foliage provides great shelter. 

snow on ornamental grass

Dried flowers of ornamental grass/Photo: shutterstock

SEDUM

Almost more beautiful in autumn than in summer, sedum’s flat, brick-red flower clusters last well into the winter. During the hot weather months, they’re covered with pollinators. But in the winter, upright varieties like ‘Autumn Joy’ provide an abundance of food to finches, chickadees and other seed-eating birds. 

dried flowerheads of sedum

Dried flowerheads of Sedum/Photo: shutterstock

COREOPSIS

In the summer, this cheerful plant with nectar-rich blooms is a magnet for pollinators, including hummingbirds. And in the fall and early winter, its dried flowers provide food for sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches and other seed-eating birds.

coreopsis seedhead

Coreopsis seedheads/Photo: shutterstock

EVENING PRIMROSE

As its name implies, evening primrose is known for its flowers that open at night and generally close in late morning. Its stiff seed pods have four chambers, each of which contains 300+ reddish brown seeds. Produced in September, the seeds are favorites of wildlife and goldfinches, in particular.

evening primrose

Evening Primrose

MULLEIN (VERBASCUM)

This silver, velvety leaved plant with tall yellow flowers often appears unannounced in the garden. Originally from Europe, it has naturalized all over the world. Since its large rosettes survive the cold weather, mullein makes a great home for overwintering insects like ladybugs. Its seeds are also eaten by many birds.

Mullein growing wild in a field

 

A Beginner’s Guide To The Different Types Of Daffodils

Next week, I’ll be planting my daffodils in what has become for me an annual tradition. Why, you may ask, since they multiply so quickly? Well nowadays, daffodils come in an astonishing array of colors, shapes and sizes. So each year, I add a few more varieties to my garden, while savoring the list of further possibilities. Continue reading

Drink To Your Health With These 10 Best Medicinal Teas

cover 3

Now that temperatures are dropping and we’re spending more time indoors, almost nothing beats a cup of freshly brewed hot tea. And aside from the warm and cozy feeling a steaming mug evokes, tea has never looked better. That’s because many ‘true’ and herbal teas are packed with powerful antioxidants and other substances that are great for human health. So before reaching for a pill, why not explore the benefits of medicinal tea? Continue reading

How To Build The Perfect Monarch Butterfly Garden

monarch on pink flowers

Daniel Potter freely admits he’s not an expert on monarchs. But as a professor of Entomology at the University of Kentucky, he and his grad students sure love to run experiments. Recently, they completed a 2-year study on the likes and dislikes of the popular orange and black butterfly. Now for the first time ever, there’s a roadmap for building the perfect monarch garden. Continue reading

The Secret To Creating Fabulous Fall Containers

Cool-season flowering plants

In my view, autumn doesn’t have to spell the end of the show in the garden. Fall containers offer countless ways to still enjoy seasonal splashes of color. Moreover, these mini gardens no longer have to be all about flowering kale or mums. With a little ingenuity, you can create autumn planters every bit as beautiful as their lush summer cousins. Continue reading